Readying a crowdfunding campaign

December 9, 2011
posted by sheric

I’m doing research to help someone start a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. We have a few months of planning before we launch which gives us a good amount of time to figure out all of the strategy and logistics involved. I have said many times that a successful campaign starts with proper research on what has worked for others, assessing your advantages in this now crowded donation centric landscape and figuring out how to motivate people to choose your project to back.

My friend asked me if Kickstarter was the best platform to choose and I have to say that I’ve seen many more successful film related campaigns succeed there than on Indiegogo. I love all of the people who run Indiegogo and I think their service is sound, but the all or nothing makes a difference for donors in particular. It encourages motivation and momentum because if you don’t hit your goal, you lose it all. Those who pledge to you don’t want to see that happen. It also lessens risk for the donor because the goal you have chosen is what is needed for the project to move forward. If you only raise some of the money, but less than you really need, where does the money go? With Indiegogo, you can keep whatever you raise, but if you need $5,000 and only raised $500, what will be done with that money? The risk is further lessened because if you don’t make the goal, no money is taken for the pledge if the project is on Kickstarter.

We are trying to determine what to ask for, budget wise. Should we try and raise the whole amount we really need or should we raise in stages and complete different sections of the project one at a time? I am sure this is a question that comes up a lot in the planning stages. Here are things I am considering in order to determine this.

1)Full budget breakdown of minimally what we need. No one is going to put us in business. What people don’t want to hear in a pitch is “I need equipment, actors, crew, locations, post production services, festival fees, marketing and distribution costs.” What the hell have you done so far? With no resources at your disposal, you don’t look very professional and no one wants to put you in business. We have to say what we have already accomplished, what resources we have and what else we need to move forward. Transparency goes a long way in getting people to invest in your work.

2)Analysis of the kind of help we will have. We must make up a list of our ardent supporters. The shorter and weaker this list is, the less we will be able to raise. Since most crowdfunding initiatives depend on the internet to reach donors, your list of online supporters must be full of active social media users who are connected to you. If you don’t use social media very often and you don’t have a strong base of support, the amount you can realistically raise is going to be small. Are there those who have managed it somehow, becoming much more proficient at online relationship building  while in the middle of a campaign? Maybe, but who needs the extra burden of getting up to speed on technology and building relationships while under the gun of a funding deadline. Not exactly the best of circumstances to be in for raising money.

3)Analysis of our organizational ties. We have made some organizational ties during the course of development on this project, which is a documentary. Now, we must bear in mind that most organizations are perpetually looking for funding so we won’t be asking them to pledge funds. But we would like  to encourage them to tell their members about the campaign. The easier we can make this for them to do, the more likely they will. It could be in an email blast, a post for their website on what the project is and why they would be interested in it, a link of our Kickstarter page on their Facebook wall and Twitter account, maybe a quote from their Executive Director about why they endorse the project or find it worthwhile. Something that is minimally taxing to them but could help us in a big way.

4)Listing our assets and perk levels. What will we be able to create as far as content and as far as perks to attract donors and give them to pass around? Ideas that spread win, so says Seth Godin. I think the idea behind the film is very powerful and will resonate with people as long as they 1)become aware of it  2)feel motivated to share it. So we need some good video to explain what we are doing and how someone can help us. But not just ONE piece, many pieces because often you have to touch someone many times with your message before it sinks in, before you can entice them to put in that card number and email address, before they decide “yes, I think I would like to become invested in this.”  We have evolved beyond just one pitch video where you look someone in the eye and ask for money, now we have to regularly keep them up to date on how the campaign going, both in email and in video. It’s like having a Youtube channel, you can’t only have your trailer on it. Once someone has seen it, why go back?

Also, some people are motivated by perks. What perks will we offer that won’t cost us money from the budget we need to do the thing we are raising the money for and still satisfy the modern human need for “transaction”? And the levels of transaction? Personally I am not motivated by the perks in a crowdfunding effort, but I understand some people are and offering prized tokens to our audience is a consideration.

5)Listing the strangers. This one will come last but is quite important. I know all of you reading this have been hit up on a near daily basis by crowdfunding campaigns from your filmmaker friends…and their friends. We have to move out of the immediate circle of friends and family and organizations that know us and into the uncharted territory of strangers. About how many targeted strangers can we reach? This is where knowing your audience characteristics comes in because if you don’t have a clue, where in the world (literally!) will you start? Remember that crowdfunding isn’t just about raising money, it is equally about building an audience for our work. Backers provide encouragement, support, and public validation too. The first impression we are making to strangers is going to be this campaign and starting relationships by asking for money is really not cool. We must present differently to this group, we can’t have the same message used for friends and acquaintances. It may also be that this group is mainly reached through the core supporters so we need to arm them with the knowledge on how to help us widen the circle.

6)Time frame of the campaign. I wanted to make this a list of 5, but this is an important consideration that didn’t fit anywhere else. When should we launch and for how long should we run? I think Christmas and tax time are not good times to launch a fundraising effort. So now that leaves January (when those holiday bills start rolling in? maybe not), February and March for us. I need to see if there are any “events” or days of special significance we might tie the campaign to in order to make it particularly relevant during this time. We might not find anything. Also, I do subscribe to the idea the shorter the campaign, the more successful because momentum and enthusiasm slows down the longer it goes on. I’ve seen it on long campaigns and I know this about human nature.  We will run a short campaign.

All of these factors determine what is realistic to ask for. There is no exact science on this, no tool (yet) you can run your numbers through and come up with the ideal funding goal. We’re still working through these so ideas and experience that would help us is appreciated.

Pitching Journalists

March 2, 2011
posted by sheric

I am going to take off my publicist’s hat today and put on my writer’s hat instead. You probably know that I write for Microfilmmaker Magazine on a regular basis. Almost every month, I write an article for that publication specific to the microbudget filmmaking world. Microbudget being under $50K in the case of that publication. The type of story pitch to interest me would involved productions that fall under that budget restriction. You know what I dislike? Being sent a press release for a film that doesn’t meet that criteria. It is a total waste of my inbox space, my time to read and it annoys me that the person who sent it did not take an ounce of time to check what types of stories I cover.

You know who is the WORST about spamming me with press releases? Big name publicity firms representing films at festivals. In fact, most of their pitch is “look at all the films we are representing at ___ festival. If you want to talk to any of these people or see their films let us know” and a synopsis of each film. For some publications, the draw of a celebrity name mentioned will lead to coverage. Otherwise, no explanation is given to why a publication should cover the film. THAT is a pitch and obviously more work is involved.

There is a good article on the IndieGoGo blog about pitching media. Mostly it addresses pitching publications to get coverage for your crowdfunding initiative, but the tips they give could be applied to any type of story. If you aren’t hiring a PR firm to arrange publicity for your film, you would do well to check out the IndieGoGo post. Key to attracting coverage? WIIFM (what’s in it for me). The writer will always consider what advantage their publication will receive from covering your story. You should consider it too when you write a pitch letter. If you can’t think of anything, don’t send a generic release. Generic releases are ok to put on wire services. No doubt, article farm sites just pick up releases and publish them verbatim and you get Google rankings on them, but don’t send these to your targeted publications. If you want a feature story written (and you should aim for that), really craft a unique letter that tells the writer or publication why you think your story merits coverage and how it fits into their audience interests.

We could all do with a little less noise and spam in the world. When you send generic eblast press releases, it might look like you are accomplishing something, but really you are just adding to overcrowded world of spam. Practice providing value in all the work that you do and for all the people you encounter. The results will be far better.

PS: I want to add that festivals always ask journalists during the press credential application to list what kinds of stories they will be covering. It would be super awesome if festivals included that information on the press list circulated to the publicists so that spammy mass mailings don’t happen.

Insights from a crowdfunding campaign-Between Us

December 29, 2010
posted by sheric

Obviously, crowdfunding has become a very hot topic in the indie film world as a way to raise money for projects. I have seen more campaigns fail than succeed so I am always on the lookout for secrets to success. Who else can share that information but the ones who have done it? Director Dan Mirvish (Omaha-The Movie, Open House and co founder of the Slamdance Film Festival) generously agreed to share some secrets with me about his campaign. Dan has some great tips on what makes a campaign successful and he was able to raise over $14K for his film Between Us.

The film is based on the hit Off-Broadway play of the same name that premiered at Manhattan Theatre Club in 2004 with a screenplay adapted by original playwright Joe Hortua and Dan. He spent some time talking to other filmmakers who had run campaigns both on Kickstarter and on Indiegogo and he chose to use Kickstarter because he was impressed by the amount of publicity they were getting, most notably from Time Magazine where they were named one of the 50 Best Inventions of 2010 and he thought more people outside of the independent film community might be familiar with Kickstarter which  might help with getting financial backing from investors too.

The campaign lasted only 30 days. It seemed just long enough to raise the money he needed, the goal was $10K, without completely nagging all of his supporters. One thing he does regret is not having a pitch video at the start of the campaign. Dan and I spoke often during the run of the campaign and I urged him to get a video up when I saw there wasn’t one in the early days.“Thirty days is not a lot of time if you only think to post a video in the second week. We really only had two weeks where we had a strong video up.  I don’t know if it ultimately it would have made a huge difference early on, but it did make a difference in the latter part,“ Dan said.

He gave some thought into what the video should show. “It was a real challenge in making the video because it wasn’t  a film we had any footage of , there wasn’t a short film it was based on, and I don’t act very well on camera or come across sincerely because most of my other projects have been very wacky and this is a departure from that. It is really important that the video is compatible with the tone of the film. For me, I had to make a video where you hear my voice, but you don’t see me talking. There were still pictures of me, much more sincere (laughs). So it had to be creative and show my talents at filmmaking. If you are selling yourself as a filmmaker and the first thing people see is this Kickstarter video, that video had better be good. I looked at a lot of videos before I made mine and I thought ‘oh my god if I have to look at one more pasty faced filmmaker asking for money, I’m going to throw up!’  Some are done well, but a lot are not and I was thinking ‘wait, this is a filmmaker and he can’t even shoot a good promo video?’  A good piece of advice, that I did not do and struggled with, is try to come up with the video BEFORE you start the campaign.”

The whole of this interview will be available starting Jan 1 in Microfilmmaker Magazine. Here are a few highlights:

-a tip for using Facebook; “set [the campaign] up as an event, invite friends to the ‘event,’ and then it is possible to send updates to everyone invited, even if they don’t initially respond.”

-a tip for choosing perks; “I offered an imdb credit at the $25 level.  For those in the industry, having an imdb credit, even a thank you, is valuable.” Plus, it costs nothing but time to fulfill.

-a tip on how to look at the campaign; ” The campaign wasn’t just about raising the money on Kickstarter, it was about the momentum. It wasn’t  just the individual amounts we raised, but leveraging that into much bigger investments.”

-a tip about the timing for the Kickstarter launch; “I knew that I wanted the campaign to be finished about the time that other filmmakers would start hearing about being accepted to the major festivals [Sundance, Slamdance and Berlin] and many of them would be using Kickstarter to raise funds to travel to the festivals. I wanted to be out before that rush hit.”

-a tip on continuing to raise money after the campaign is finished; ““About 2 minutes before the end of the deadline, I edited the text proposal on my Kickstarter page and told people that if they missed the deadline, there are still ways you can contribute financially. After the campaign ends, you can’t edit the page anymore even though the page stays up.”

Check out the whole of the article next Saturday.

Ask any filmmaker who has run a successful campaign and he will tell you it was a full time job to get those funds. It is a crusade to exert your goal continuously and strenuously, basically you are bothering and cajoling everyone you know to help get to the goal. You must be committed to doing that to be successful.

Statistically, the shorter the campaign deadline, the faster the funding comes. I know this sounds unlikely, but if you drag out the process beyond 90 days, interest seriously wanes even from those benefitting from the funds. It is just not possible to keep momentum going for a long length of time. Keep it tight and focused.

Remember, Kickstarter’s policy is all or nothing. If you don’t raise your goal amount in the time allotted, you get none of the money pledged. Indiegogo allows you to keep what you raise, but if you raise it in a specified amount of time, there is a rebate on their fees.

Some platforms can be accessed via Self Distribution (e.g. Youreeeka or Maxcast) while others can only be accessed via an aggregator (e.g. Netflix, and iTunes, which at the moment is by far the greatest revenue generating platform in the digital distribution space). Some aggregators are better than others and some distributors and aggregators take lower fees than others. Choosing the best platform/portal for your film must be done with care and must also take into account the type of film it is and its overall release plan.

Much of this information can be found within our Digital Distribution Guide, available to our members. For this week, you can gain access to the full Guide by contributing $35 to our IndieGoGo campaign.

One must analyze one’s investment of time and costs in doing delivery before committing to any distribution option. Can you do yourself what the platform is offering to do for you? How much time and cost will you take on to accomplish the task? Is it worth it to pay someone for their expertise and connections? Just because it is theoretically possible to handle the work yourself doesn’t mean that is the best option for you to choose.

Much of this information can be found within our Digital Distribution Guide, available to our members. For this week, you can gain access to the full Guide by contributing $35 to our IndieGoGo campaign.

TFC Tidbit of the Day 2-Evaluating a Platform

June 28, 2010
posted by sheric

A good thing to find out is the extent to which any given platform or distributor licensing to platforms have marketing tools and/or commitments in place. Will doing a deal with them be like having your film in the basement of a crap dvd store in a strip mall in Iowa (no offense to Iowans), or, will it be like having it on the shelves facing out in a big chain with some advertising, or will it be somewhere in between? Not all distributors and aggregators market films well or even at all so choose carefully or have a back-up marketing plan.

Much of this information can be found within our Digital Distribution Guide, available to our members. For this week, you can gain access to the full Guide by contributing $35 to our IndieGoGo campaign.